Women currently make up 49.7% of around 345.5 million people in the Middle East and North Africa region. But despite the many advances made in terms of closing the gender gap in health, political representation, and labor force participation, many other barriers remain.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, here’s a list of facts about women of the Arab world.
‘Arab Women’ are the subject of Western and Eastern curiosity and, often, fascination. However, most attempts to investigate ‘Arab Women’ reduce them to one entity, ignoring their multitude of experience. The fact is Arab women are very different from each other. Just like everyone else, their realities are shaped by different personal, social, economic, religious and political factors. Arab women are the products of their diverse societies. Yet, the impact of differences on women’s lives are rarely captured or studied, much less understood.
On International Women’s Day, let’s remember the challenges girls face in education.
What would your life be like with only five years of schooling? For many girls around the world, this is the most education they can expect and they are the lucky ones. Across Africa, 28 million girls between the ages of about 6 and 15 are not in school and many will never even set foot in a classroom.
This Sunday, International Women’s Day celebrates the achievements of women, while calling for greater gender equality. Ahead of several high-profile campaigns and initiatives launching this week and next, I thought I’d highlight some gender data and trends that you might not know about.
Note: as these data are from different sources, some of the members of regional groupings may differ between charts, please refer to the original sources for details.
1) 91% of the world’s girls completed primary school
In 2012, more girls completed primary school than ever before. Since 2000, there’s been progress across the world but large disparities remain between regions and countries. Only 66% of girls in Sub Saharan Africa completed primary school in 2012, and in three countries this figure was under 35%. Educating girls is one of the best investments we can make and by 2015, developing countries as a whole are likely to reach gender parity (about the same numbers of boys and girls) in terms of primary and secondary enrollment.
It is amazing how often in crisis, new opportunities arise. Gaza is no exception. With its borders tightly controlled, the narrow strip (roughly twice the size of Washington, D.C.) is the last place one would think of looking for economic opportunities for young women. And yet, in spite of (or perhaps because of) the territory’s regional limitations, women in Gaza have an advantage when it comes to becoming leaders in technology start-ups.
I recall a visit to a Bank-funded project in a rural Bolivian community. An enthusiastic Quechua woman was proudly telling me that she was about to undertake the 3-hour journey to Sucre with her “wawa” (baby) to get the three price quotes she needed to purchase wire for the community fences. She was participating in one of over 600 investments designed to help vulnerable rural communities in Bolivia lift themselves out of poverty, within the scope of the Community Investment in Rural Areas Project (PICAR) executed by the Ministry of Rural Development of Lands.
“You just have one wawa, right?,” I asked. She replied: “Well, this is the youngest of six children; the others will stay home. My ten-year-old daughter will look after the younger ones. Right now my husband is working in the Chapare, harvesting coca leaves. He only comes home occasionally.”
After talking with her I had mixed feelings. One the one hand, I was worried that our gender-targeted project was asking too much of her and might be harming her kids in some way. On the other hand, I realized that it was giving her a unique chance to engage in tasks historically performed by the men.
If you thought Indian women would shy away from working in that traditionally male preserve - the formidable public transport system - think again. Young women in Chandigarh are daring to turn stereotypes on their head by signing up in large numbers to work as bus conductors! And that too on regular public buses, not just on female-only ‘ladies specials’.
Inequality and discrimination aren’t just violations of human rights: They harm competitiveness and hinder efforts to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity, the World Bank Group’s corporate goals.
Women are emerging as a major force for change. Countries that have invested in girls’ education and removed legal barriers that prevent women from achieving their potential are now seeing the benefits.
Let’s take Latin America. More than 70 million women have joined the labor force in recent years. Two-thirds of the increase in women’s labor force participation in the last two decades can be attributed to more education and the fact that women marry later and have fewer children. As a result, between 2000 and 2010, women's earnings contributed to about 30% of the reduction in extreme poverty in the region.
In fact, for countries to leave poverty behind, both men and women need to get to equal and push the frontiers of equal opportunities even further. But to get there, we need to tackle three issues.
First, violence against women needs to end. More than 700 million women worldwide are estimated to have been subject to violence at the hands of a husband or partner. Domestic violence comes with great cost to individuals but also has significant impact on families, communities, and economies. Its negative impact on productivity costs Chile up to 2% of its GDP and Brazil 1.2%.
Many girls and women have little control over their sexual and reproductive health: If current trends persist, more than 142 million girls will be married off over the next decade while they are still children themselves.